The Future Connection is a place where students, investors, and mentors come together to make lifelong learning more sustainable. Stagnant institutional education, the student loan crisis, generational divide, and the need for better social engagement form a fertile atmosphere for change through individual and community empowerment. In response, TFC aims to provide a sustainable funding mechanism in the sense that it is less usurious and transactional and more equitable, transparent, and constructive. This will not only foster a more open and sustainable learning path for every type of learner given their unique interests, it will also cultivate diverse and meaningful relationships that are vested in each other’s experiences and progress. Now that is a future through Higher Education worth aiming for!
There are three major functions of TFC: (1) integrated mentorship collaboration, (2) the Personal Canvas, and (3) the Future Fund mechanism. I will elucidate how the three work together with a story.
Li, a high school senior, is graduating in the coming spring and has scouted out some colleges, both community and private, that she has interest in attending. Her interests, dance and creative art and movement, open up a multitude of ways with which she can attain both experience and credential. Yet she fears, as is common nowadays, that a private tuition would set her back financially and direct her down only one of the potential paths for gaining a diverse education and set of experiences by monopolizing her time.
One day she is recommended by her counselor to check out The Future Connection. She learns that she can illustrate her various paths for growth and meeting her goals. She also begins to understand that she will be embraced by a community that will collectively invest in her (at a nominal interest rate of 2%) as long as she agrees to connect and work with a mentor that is also a part of this community (but hasn't explicitly funded her so as to avoid a conflict of interest).
Li submits her Canvas and in August receives her first set of funds ($5,000) to pursue activities related to her goals based on her Canvas' twelve month horizon. Among those activities are two classes in contemporary art theory and movement therapy (the therapy component was suggested by her mentor as a budding field) at a reputable state university. She also uses her resources to take a variety of classes at a local dance studio cooperative and meets with her mentor regularly to discuss what she is learning from her experiences. Finally, she uses the rest of her funds to enroll in a Udemy course on the basics Self-Employment and Marketing, while adding to her next semester's wish list a course that would give her preliminary understanding of personal website development, at the recommendation of her mentor. Beginning to understand Li's interests, this mentor, a former executive at a local Children's Theater, has connected her with an organization in Honduras that is seeking creative movement therapy teachers.
Thinking long term with her Canvas, Li sees three years of $4,000-6,000 necessary before feeling confident and skilled enough to take her experience and aspirations to Central America to work with young victims of violence and trafficking. While there she also plans to submit a fourth version of her Canvas to get funded for a Yoga as Therapy certificate, while seeking some grant money and marketing some dance classes locally to begin paying back her TFC loans. Looking forward, however, she realizes that her vision is flexible, as was her education, and with only about $20,000 in loans and a plethora of learning experiences and connections, she feels prepared to find purposeful opportunity wherever she ends up.
The Future Fund Mechanism: This will operate through both lending and donations. "Future" loans will be drawn from an aggregate pool and will receive a return capped at 2%. Additionally, or alternatively, the individual (or entity) contributing to the fund can opt to donate. Aggregate donations will be tax deductible for the donor and applied proportionately to all outstanding loan principles at the end of the given tax year. Funding per learner will be approved by TFC and the borrower's mentor and doled out semi-annually. Payback begins six-twelve months after the student submits his or her final Canvas, or after five years, whichever transpires first.
Update to Light Experiment: Students from selected high schools will participate in a hack-a-thon to develop the most unique approach to building a Personal Canvas. In true collaborative and community-based fashion, this takes inspiration from Myles Horton's Highlander Folk School in the 50s, which aimed to cultivate the What and How of learning and growth from within and between students, with the mentor, teacher or coordinator (me) merely facilitating the environment.